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With quake damages repaired, Washington Monument to reopen

| Sunday, May 11, 2014, 7:15 p.m.

WASHINGTON — The cracks have been repaired. The stone has been patched. The elevator is fixed.

The 500 tons of scaffolding have been down for weeks, and the lawn is freshly mowed.

On Monday, 994 days since an earthquake shook the Washington Monument from top to bottom, the marble-and-granite national landmark reopens to the public.

Tours will resume at 1 p.m., following a 10 a.m. reopening.

“We just got the new exhibits installed yesterday,” Bob Vogel, superintendent of the National Mall and Memorial Parks, said during a preview of the monument on Saturday.

An inner fence perimeter was keeping tourists at bay.

Since the August afternoon when a video camera captured terrified tourists fleeing from the shaking observation level 500 feet up, an estimated 1.5 million people have been deprived of the spectacular view on visits to Washington.

For more than two years, the mammoth two-toned structure stood surrounded by a chain-link fence with signs declaring it closed.

Yet “it is so ever-present,” Caroline Cunningham, president of the Trust for the National Mall, said. “I think people feel connected to it whether they can get into it or whether they can't.”

Quake left cracks, gaps

The magnitude-5.8 earthquake that struck the East Coast on Aug. 23, 2011, whipsawed the monument, shaking stone loose from the surface, and opening cracks so wide that light shined through.

Debris tumbled from the exterior and interior of the 555-foot-tall obelisk, damaging the internal elevator and leaving cracks and gouges in the outside stone.

“I had only been superintendent for a couple of weeks,” Vogel said. “I have to admit it was something of a trial by fire and a huge challenge.”

The repair project required, among other things, inspectors to lower themselves on ropes from the monument's top to conduct up-close ­— and hair-raising — examinations of the damaged stone on each face of the structure.

It required 2.7 miles of new sealant between stones and 53 stainless steel “saddle anchors” to bolt in place slabs on the monument's slanted pyramidion in case of another earthquake.

The slabs had been held in place mainly by gravity, and engineers worried that they could fall off, said James Perry, the chief of resource management for the Mall.

Repairs cost $15M

The repair work was relatively straightforward, but “it's the Washington Monument, so there's a lot of it,” Perry said, as he stood on the observation level inside the structure.

The repair bill was an estimated $15 million. But that was cut in half when local businessman and philanthropist David Rubenstein announced that he would chip in $7.5 million. The government paid the rest.

A moving symbol

Rubenstein told The Associated Press he's been surprised how much the monument means to people from across the country who have written him letters and emails. He said he's pleased the job was done on time and on budget.

“It became clear to me that the Washington Monument symbolizes many things for our country — the freedoms, patriotism, George Washington, leadership,” he said. “So it's been moving to see how many people are affected by it.”

The monument, which was begun in 1848, honors George Washington, Revolutionary War hero and the nation's first president.

The monument, one of the tallest free-standing masonry structures in the world, is perhaps the most recognized of American structures.

The cornerstone was laid on July 4, 1848, at a ceremony attended by then-President James Polk and then-Congressman Abraham Lincoln. Work halted from 1858 to 1878 because of a lack of money.

In December 1884, a 3,300-pound marble capstone was placed atop the monument and capped with a pyramid of aluminum.

The following Feb. 21, on a sunny, frigid day, the monument was dedicated.

Among those in attendance was Secretary of War Robert Lincoln, son of the assassinated president who had been present 37 years before.

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